Crispin Tredarloe was plucked from his small Cornish village at a young age to apprentice with a magical practitioner. Crispin looked up to his mentor and learned to do magic through writing. Little did Crispin know that his mentor was actually warlock, doing unsanctioned blood magic and possessed by evil.
Crispin managed to escape the chaos of his mentor’s breakdown relatively unscathed, and even found himself a boyfriend in waste paper trader Ned Hall as a result of the crisis. But even though the justiculars believe Crispin didn’t know his magic was banned and wasn’t part of the evil plan, he still must learn to practice magic legally. Yet months have gone by and Crispin still can’t figure out how to make his magic work without his pen made from his bone and blood. Things seem to be looking up when the Council brings in a new mentor, someone who seems to not only know about his talent of magical writing, but who also actually has the patience to teach Crispin.
Unfortunately it is not all smooth sailing. When spending the night with Ned, they discover a fire next door and the shop owner burning. Not only that, but Ned hears strange singing that no one else can hear. Ned and Crispin try to involve the justiculars, but no one senses anything wrong. Yet the men are certain there is evil magic happening, especially as more rag and bottle shop owners turn up dead. But no one seems to believe them, and Crispin is already in trouble for his inability to stop using his blood magic in times of crisis. Now Ned and Crispin must figure out what is causing the deaths, deal with both of their insecurities about their relationship, and hope they don’t end up jailed by the justiculars for their efforts.
Rag and Bone gives us the story of Ned and Crispin, who were first introduced in K.J. Charles’ short story, A Queer Trade, as part of the wonderful Charmed and Dangerous anthology. In that first story, we meet both men, learn about Crispin and his mentor, and see the fallout when things turn bad and chaos is unleashed. Although we get some of the backstory here, and this is technically book one of the Rag and Bone series, I think having read that short will really help give you context about these men and their relationship. The anthology is fabulous and I highly recommend it, but you can also buy just Charles’ short as a standalone. Both these stories are set amidst Charles’ Charm of Magpies world. It would be impossible to overstate how much I love the Charm of Magpies series, and so I adored getting back into that world here. We get some appearances from some of our regulars from that series here (hello super pregnant Ester), and the timeline of this book roughly overlaps that of Jackdaw. That said, it think you could read this story without having read the other books in the Magpies world (but seriously, read them because they are awesome).
Ok, business done, let’s get into the good stuff. So I loved Crispin and Ned when I first met them in A Queer Trade, and I was thrilled to see they were getting their own full-length story. There is such a fascinating dynamic between them. I love a good opposites attract story and these guys just come together with so many differences. Ned is a man of color living in a time when discrimination was certainly prevalent. He makes a decent living as a waste-man, but it is hard work and he is on the lower end of the working class. Ned is solid and strong, is used to physical labor, and is practical and straightforward and not so certain he likes the idea of magic. He has grown up in the city and is used to that life. Crispin, on the other hand, is a country boy that still feels kind of out of his league in the city. He is somewhat femme in the way he presents himself, clearly gay. He isn’t strong or physical and he makes his way with his mind. The two don’t seem like they should be compatible, but they just work so well together. But each man faces his own insecurities, both feeling like they aren’t quite enough for the other. Charles manages to let us feel the uncertainty in both men and how it shapes their actions, without letting it devolve into the typical misunderstandings we often see in this genre.
The two men not only make a great team romantically, but also fighting the evil magic that keeps cropping up. This time they face something mysterious that is killing the shop owners. The two are kind of on their own, party because the justiculars aren’t sensing the presence that Ned and Crispin see, but also because they are having to hide Crispin’s use of blood magic. The mystery is clever and the ending quite thrilling. And I love the way things all resolve in the aftermath. I particularly loved Ned’s fierce defense of Crispin and the way the two are so protective of one another. And again, for fans of the Magpies world, I think you will particularly enjoy the way the ending pulls together some threads from the larger magical world.
So I was thrilled with this story and it is making me eager for more from Ned and Crispin (Charles has indicated that a follow up story is a possibility). I loved returning to the Magpies world, and I really enjoyed these characters. This story is romantic and magical, thrilling and fun. I definitely loved it and would highly recommend Rag and Bone.